Boston-based maternal health organizations get funding boost to help cover cost of doulas, other supports

When Julia Lotin was pregnant, she was often the only woman of color in her moms’ groups, where she struggled to find the comfort and connection she needed, especially after her daughter was born.

So, she worked to fill those gaps herself, a search that eventually led her to create a network that now supports thousands of Black and brown women across Massachusetts.

In 2018, Lotin created a Facebook group called Melanin Mass Moms, where women of color could come together to share their pregnancy and parenting experiences, swap advice about doctors and breastfeeding, and arrange playdates. Five years later, she is the executive director of a nonprofit of the same name, one of three Boston-based organizations that earlier this month received $25,000 grants for their work filling gaps in maternal and reproductive support that continue to fuel the Black maternal health crisis.

The funding is part of an effort by the Boston Women’s Fund, a foundation that supports marginalized women, girls, and gender-diverse people, to shore up funding for women of color, who are often overlooked for grants.

As Massachusetts continues to see a rise in severe pregnancy complications, the funding will allow Melanin Mass Moms to cover the cost of doulas, professionals trained to offer support and guidance during pregnancy; create an emergency fund to help those experiencing crises like homelessness and food insecurity; and host mental health workshops, according to Lotin and Tiffany Lozanne, president of the board.

BWF awards these so-called Movement Building Grants every year to support community-based solutions to systemic issues. After Roe v. Wade was overturned last year, the predominantly Black staff decided to focus on supporting reproductive justice work led by Black women.

“It was our anger and our frustration,” said Natanja Craig Oquendo, BWF’s executive director. “And, it was our love, because we knew women of color were leading amazing work, we just had to find them.”

Female-led organizations are often the first to respond to the needs of their communities during crises, providing essential services to marginalized groups, raising awareness around risks to human rights and health, and demanding accountability, according to UNICEF. But they often lack adequate financial support.

A 2020 report measuring charitable giving found that women’s and girls’ organizations received only 1.6 percent of philanthropic funding and 2.2 percent of government grants in 2017. Women of color receive only 0.5 percent of giving, according to BWF.

To find the organizations making a difference in Boston communities, BWF put a request out to its network and across its social media for people to nominate the organizations that were supporting them through reproductive issues.

“We wanted to know, when people didn’t go to hospitals, where they were finding healing that reflected them,” she said. “Because that is where change is happening.”

During listening sessions, she said community members pointed to organizations like Birth Equity and Justice Massachusetts, a statewide coalition advocating for maternal health issues and policy. The organization started in 2020 as the Massachusetts COVID-19 Maternal Equity Coalition, a group of leading health experts making policy recommendations to then-Governor Charlie Baker about how to protect pregnant and postpartum people during the pandemic.

BEJMA is now working with community groups and local leaders that provide food, transportation, and other services to the hundreds of mostly Haitian migrants temporarily housed at the Clarion Hotel in Taunton.

Yaminah Romulus is a member of the steering committee of Birth Equity & Justice Massachusetts, one of the reproductive justice organizations receiving $25,000 grants from the Boston Women’s Fund. Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff

Yaminah Romulus, BEJMA’s co-chair, said the organization will use the funding to recruit additional staff and organize an in-person event that convenes Black maternal and reproductive health leaders to collaborate on solutions for the state’s broader maternal health crisis.

For all three organizations, this marks their first philanthropic funding and will allow them to grow and sustain their largely volunteer-based work at a time when they are seeing increased demand for their services.

Since 2011, Stephanie Crawford has been the executive director of Propa City Community Outreach, a nonprofit organization that helps women of color and their families navigate pregnancy and infant loss through free support groups, care packages, and education resources. She started the organization after her son Simeon was stillborn and, like Lotin, she struggled to connect with mostly white support groups.

Crawford said a challenge for her team over the past decade is that when organizations don’t get funding, they can seem less credible to hospitals and other potential partners. Over the years, Propa City has developed educational brochures about navigating pregnancy loss that are now available at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, but it took a while to build those relationships.

“Even though we’re a free program, that makes it harder for people to know about us,” she said. “Which is sad because we’re here and we just want to help.”

She said she became immediately tearful when she heard about the grant because it will allow her and her staff, who work on a volunteer basis, to keep offering services free of charge.

Zeina Mohammed can be reached at Follow her @_ZeinaMohammed.

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